MRC announces £20 million for new health informatics research institute

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has today (Wednesday, July 3) announced it will invest £20m capital funding in the establishment of a UK health informatics research institute, to be known as the Farr Institute.

The Farr Institute, which will have major centres in London, Dundee, Manchester, and in Swansea at Swansea University, will add to an existing investment by charities, Research Councils and Government.

This investment will support the safe use of patient and research data for medical research across all diseases. The Institute’s independent research will support innovation in the public sector and industry leading to advances in preventative medicine, improvements in NHS care and better development of commercial drugs and diagnostics.

It will also provide new insights into the understanding of causes of ill health which in turn will guide new biomedical research discovery.

In addition to health benefits for patients and UK citizens, the Institute will help to cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader in research using large electronic health data.

The Farr Institute will build on the four e-health informatics research centres (eHIRCs) recently funded by a consortium of three Research Councils, three health departments and four leading medical research charities, including the £4.3million Centre for the Improvement of Population Health through e-Records Research (CIPHER) at Swansea University, led by Professor Ronan Lyons and Professor David Ford at the University’s Institute of Life Science, College of Medicine.

The additional £20m MRC funding for the Farr represents a doubling of UK investment in this area.

Medical, population and computer scientists will combine their expertise to interpret large and complex health datasets in research environments that safeguard patient confidentiality.

Researchers will develop methods for safely sharing, combining and analysing diverse datasets across boundaries, enabling new discoveries and validating research findings with a speed and scale not previously possible.

The concentration of funding in developing UK health informatics research base will provide a focus for collaborations with IT and pharmaceutical companies, attracting inward investment into the UK economy.

The Farr Institute has secure structures in place to protect patient privacy. The Institute will engage closely with the public to identify current and future concerns for research using personal data, ways of safely addressing these issues and ensuring the benefits of this type of research are visible to patients and the public.

Minister for Science and Universities, David Willetts, said: “Harnessing 'big data' in the NHS will revolutionise healthcare. The Farr Institute will bring together highly skilled medical and computer scientists, to use electronic health records to improve understanding of a range of diseases. It will attract pharmaceutical and IT industry investment. Patient confidentiality will of course be protected.”

MRC Chief Executive, Professor Sir John Savill, said: “Using the wealth of data in health records, our patient and population cohort studies and other routine datasets is central to the MRC’s mission to improve of human health and contributing to economic growth. Investment in the Farr Institute represents an important part of a wider MRC strategy to integrate clinical, genetic and other biomedical data to better understand health and disease.

“The £20m capital funding from the MRC builds on an initiative supported by 10 UK Government and charity funders. The aim is to strengthen the UK’s capacity to analyse patient records and health data in safe environments so that patients and participants can be reassured that their personal data are safe and may be used to benefit to the whole UK population.”

Professor David Ford, Deputy Director of CIPHER at Swansea University’s Institute of Life Science, College of Medicine, added: “The Farr Institute will capitalise on the expertise in the Centres and to encourage wider collaboration among UK and international researchers.

“The Institute will also offer career development and training opportunities to increase the UK’s capacity and capability in research using health records. CIPHER will work closely with the NHS to ensure that NHS and patient benefits are quickly realised.”


Notes:

  • The funders of the four e-health Informatics Research Centres in a joint £19m investment are: Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates), the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Government) and the Wellcome Trust.
  • The Farr Institute is named for one of the ‘founding fathers’ of medical statistics, the epidemiologist William Farr (1807-83). Farr’s most significant contribution to public health was setting up a system that routinely recorded the cause of death in the death record. Such detailed statistics provided the raw data which allowed a far more detailed analysis of death within the general population. For example, the mortality rates of different professions or of those living in different locations could be compared.